BY AZERI OBSERVER STAFF
In an exclusive interview with the Azeri Observer Magazine, the Spouse of Mexican Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Mrs. Edith Elias Ortega, talks about her professional path, different facets of the diplomatic life, and explains how coming to Baku allowed her to discover herself. She also shares her secret of the Mexican and Azerbaijani cuisines blending, speaks on the similarities between the two cultures and confesses what she thinks about the Azerbaijani concept of spouse.
Question: Can you tell us a little bit about your professional training and career?
Answer: I must admit that at first I wasn’t that much interested in law, but after several courses, I liked it very much. I began my professional career in my father’s law firm. Once I graduated from law school, I practiced law in litigation and later worked in the Mexican government. For most of my professional life I worked as a public servant.
Q.: What have you become involved with since moving to Baku?
My first activities were getting in touch with and getting to know Azerbaijani people, who very kindly offered me their friendship. Several months after arriving to Baku I began a one-year course of study in painting at Azerbaijan’s Academy of Art. Coming to Azerbaijan has been an experience I shall never forget. It has allowed me to discover myself and see and learn things about myself that I did not know before; and by sharing with Azerbaijani friends, I am now also able to present my feelings and inner life in color.
Q.: Ambassadors are the official representatives of their governments abroad, but their jobs often require them to attend and receive social events with their spouses and families. How would you describe the role of a diplomatic spouse?
The role of a diplomat’s spouse may seem trivial and uneventful at the beginning because you are not directly involved in all the day-to-day activities of the embassy, but it is actually quite engaging. In fact, both the diplomat and the spouse are permanently committed to the successful outcome of any activity, whether a national day celebration, a dinner or a coffee or weekend lunch. In Mexico we say la forma es fondo–format is substance. I.e., to achieve any objective, the environment and the ambiance has to be duly pondered as they must provide serenity and a space for openness and friendship. Both consorts give the best of themselves, to make dreams become reality. Hence, the wife of the Ambassador also carries stress, because any social activity has to come out well. Few seldom realize all the work, including organization, coordination and logistics, that has to be done in advance in order to attain an outstanding result. The outcome is what matters. Diplomatic spouses are, just like the diplomats, engaged in diplomatic activity 24 hours a day. Both diplomats and their spouses are an illustration of their idiosyncrasy, their cosmovision and their country.
Q.: How did you and the Ambassador first meet?
I met my husband while I was studying my Master’s Degree in Constitutional Law and Amparo at the National Lawyers’ Bar in Mexico City. He was teaching constitutional control mechanisms with an emphasis on international law and human rights. A sparkle in the eye, a smile, an exchanging of a word and several more – gradually, we got to know each other. Eventually, the time came when we both recognized that love was amongst us, that two selves had met and their souls embraced. And so, we married.
Q.: What do you most admire about your husband? What does he most admire about you?
I admire his intelligence and integrity. He is an honest man committed to his work. His quest for perfection is not a defect, quite the contrary. His devotion to minutiae, timely delivered, is the plus that we all recognize. To work with him is to learn continuously; to share a life with him is to continuously learn.
As for what he most admires in me, we would have to ask him. However, with his voice, he has expressed that it is the honesty with which I say things and how I commit to achieving what I set out to do, the persistence to accomplish what I purport, and my ability to, when told of my mistakes, acknowledge and correct them.
Q.: Despite being far away, many aspects of Mexican culture can be seen in Baku. Baku highlights several Mexican restaurants, and many other restaurants feature menu items inspired by Mexican cuisine. During Soviet times, several Mexican telenovelas (TV series), such as Prosto Maria (Simply Maria), were very popular. What is one aspect of Mexican culture that you would like to share with the people of Azerbaijan?
While Mexico is physically very far from Baku (more than 12,000 kilometers), it is in fact closer than anyone may imagine. Gastronomy is the best example. Both peoples strive to create savory foods. Of course, tequila and mezcal are great examples of Mexican gastronomy and convey part of our culture, sharing a glimpse of so many of the tastes of my country.
It was with great enthusiasm and pride that upon my arrival to Baku I discovered Mexican restaurants and food inspired by Mexico. That lessened my nostalgic feelings. Mexican soap-operas (telenovelas) came to Baku and left immense memories in Azerbaijani hearts, just like in Mexico, with women, men and children suspending their activities to watch the glee and sadness, laughter and laments depicted in these telenovelas, engraving these images into their hearts, irrespective of their spoken language.
Regarding Mexican cuisine, I suggest moving beyond tacos and burritos and exploring the fascinating avenues of colors and flavors, including the different types of chile (hot peppers) and spices used. Not surprisingly, when we went to the jam festival in Gabala and offered Mexican jams and marmalades with chile, Azerbaijanis first cautiously tried the chile only to later open their arms and taste buds to its taste, a taste that both opens the flavors of all foods and complements them –but does not kill the original aroma and essence.
Q.: We have heard that you are an excellent cook. Do you ever cook Azerbaijani food in your kitchen? What is your favorite Azerbaijani dish and why?
Thanks for the undue compliment. I am really just a fan of the kitchen – but I believe I don’t do so bad. I like to play around the ingredients and create new dishes. My favorite Azerbaijani dish is khash, to which I like to add a Mexican zest. How? Using the same ingredients, the same dish, I add a chile spice that gives it a red color which reminds me of my country and that my husband likes very much. For me, it is the blending of Mexican and Azerbaijani cuisine mixed in one, mutually learning each other’s tastes and mutually growing.
Q.: The lives of diplomats and their husbands are often glamourized in the media. What is true and not true about the typical stereo life of a diplomat as portrayed by the media?
Diplomats´ lives sem. glamourous because you get to constantly see them in receptions and events of social exposition. The work of diplomats is to open doors between countries, not just one but as many as possible. Their lives are glamourized because the media constantly presents them in such a format. While diplomats’ lives may be elegant and exciting at times, few words are spoken about their longing for their society, their language, their foods, or their friends and family. Parallel to their diplomatic activities, diplomats lead a simple life, sharing in laughter and suffering the pain of absence just like everyone else. Mind you, it also opens us to the lives of many others, allowing us to not only make new friends, but to have new kin and a new family –of very close and dear friends.
Q.: What has surprised you the most about your time in Azerbaijan?
Every day I am in constant awe. I ponder my life, and I see I am very fortunate to be in Azerbaijan. I am amazed by its mountains, its food, its fruits, its people. I live in Baku, the Windy City – and when the wind wakes up, it is a giant that makes itself heard in all the country. I carry the wind with me and am lifted in my spirit.
Q.: What would you recommend that visitors should see or do during their time in Azerbaijan?
Visitors should know that Azerbaijan is a very safe country. Tourists have to stroll through the cobbled streets and alleys of Old City and know these quaint paths. They have to drink tea in the Old City, following the scent of history. They must visit Gobustan, the mud volcanoes, the blue mosque, ramble along the boulevard, see Sheki, Gabala, and many more places and just feel Azerbaijan.
Q.: And now for our signature question: It is said that behind every successful man there is a woman. How does this manifest itself in your family?
I keep with me the Azerbaijani concept of spouse: mənim həyat yoldaşım, my partner for life. For me, in a couple, neither one is behind or ahead of the other, we both walk together side by side, and we both learn and grow at our own pace, for we are partners for life.